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Housing

What is the Renters’ Reform Bill and how will it change things for renters?

The much-delayed Renters’ Reform Bill will be detailed by the Westminster government later this year after being included in the Queen’s Speech. Here’s what to expect

Renters are used to waiting – whether it be for a landlord to carry out repairs to their property or for the return of a deposit – but the wait for the Renters’ Reform Bill has been a long one.

The bill was first proposed in April 2019 in a bid to remove some of the insecurities tenants experience while private renting in England.

It has been almost three years and a pandemic since that announcement. But perhaps renters will not have to wait much longer.

The Renters’ Reform Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 with Prince Charles promising a bill “to strengthen the rights of tenants” in the speech laying out the government’s priorities in the next parliamentary session.

But what is the Renters’ Reform Bill and what is it trying to achieve? Let The Big Issue explain.

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What is the Renters’ Reform Bill?

Theresa May’s government first announced the bill in April 2019 as a “step change” in protections for renters, ending no-fault evictions and giving landlords and tenants more rights. It was hailed as “the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation”.

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Announcing the plans, the then-prime minister said: “Everyone in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence.

“But millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification.

“This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. Landlords will still be able to end tenancies when they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only eight weeks’ notice.”

So how will the bill change things for 4.4 million private renters in England?

The main target for the reforms is the abolishment of section 21 evictions, often called ‘no-fault’ evictions. Removing the clause from the Housing Act 1988 will allow “security for tenants in the private rented sectors and empower them to challenge poor practice and unfair rent increases without fear of retaliatory eviction”.

The government will also look to improve standards in rented accommodation with a Decent Homes Standard and explore the introduction of a national landlord register much like the one in operation in Scotland.

The bill will also look to create a new ombudsman for renters to take complaints against landlords without going to court. A new portal to help tenants track their landlord’s performance and hold them to account is also included in the draft legislation plans.

However, possession grounds for landlords will also be reformed under the changes with a promise to “introduce new and stronger grounds for repeated incidences of rent arrears” and “reduced notice periods for anti-social behaviour”.

Overall, the bill is looking to give more power to renters to allow them to exert their rights with ministers taking the view that the power dynamic has shifted too far towards landlords in recent times. 

Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, said: “Renters have been waiting three years for the government to abolish these insidious section 21 evictions. Finally, legislation looks to be on its way.

“But we can’t rest until the changes are passed into law. Now it’s the details that matter.

“It is essential that any new tenancy regime reduces the number of unwanted moves and gives renters the confidence to challenge poor practice by landlords.”

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Has the Section 21 notice been abolished?

It has been three years since ministers promised to axe section 21 evictions but they are still in operation.

The notice can be issued by private landlords without any requirement to give a reason and critics have long argued that the practice can drive homelessness and mean tenants never have a chance to settle in their homes due to fear of eviction.

Landlords can issue a section 21 notice for genuine reasons such as anti-social behaviour or the need to reclaim the property from a tenant who is damaging it. But on other occasions they can be used for getting a property back to sell it or — in some cases — for personal reasons if the landlord and tenant have fallen out.

Before the pandemic, the loss of a tenancy was the leading driver of homelessness and the government stepped in to ban evictions during the pandemic to prevent people from losing their home.

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Section 21 notices have been issued thousands of times since Theresa May’s government pledged to axe them in 2019.

Nearly 230,000 private renters have received a no-fault eviction notice since according to a Shelter and YouGov survey released in April 2022 to mark three years since May’s promise.

That equates to a renter receiving a section 21 notice once every seven minutes over the period despite an eviction ban protecting tenants during the pandemic.

“It’s appalling that every seven minutes another private renter is slapped with a no-fault eviction notice despite the government promising to scrap these grossly unfair evictions three years ago. It’s no wonder many renters feel forgotten,” said Shelter chief executive Polly Neate. 

Section 21 notices are also beginning to see more households calling on councils to prevent homelessness. The 5,260 households who asked local authorities for support between October and December 2021, according to official figures, represents the first time this figure had risen above pre-pandemic levels.

Campaigners such as Generation Rent have been calling for quicker action to remove the mechanism. Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of Generation Rent, previously told The Big Issue: “The longer renters wait for the government to abolish Section 21, the more people will have their lives uprooted at their landlord’s whim.”

It’s important to note that it is not just ministers and tenants who think that ‘no-fault’ evictions need to go, landlords accept that reforms are needed as well. The National Residential Landlords Association has spoken up in favour of axing them – as long as there is an agreed mechanism to replace them that allows landlords to reclaim properties quickly when needed.

Last year Ben Beadle, the chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “Whilst we condemn any landlord who abuses the system, it is vital to remember that the vast majority of tenants and landlords enjoy a good relationship. It is in that spirit that the government should develop its plans for a system to replace Section 21 in its forthcoming white paper on rental reform.”

Can a landlord charge whatever they want?

A landlord can charge whatever they like for a property – there is no law setting a maximum amount and that is not going to change with the Renters’ Reform Bill.

Instead it is up to the property market to define the price a renter pays. For example, if a landlord charges too high of a price then it is unlikely they will find a tenant for the property.

However, the lack of supply in the rental market means rents are rising at the fastest rate on record. This is because renters have fewer choices and that is driving rents up because they have no option but to accept a higher rate.

This is a problem that is not going to be solved by the Renters’ Reform bill. Instead, the only answer is an effort to build more affordable homes – a current target for the Westminster government.

When is the Renters’ Reform white paper due to be released?

Ministers have said the white paper – a government report giving proposals on an issue – will be released later in 2022.

After the Renters’ Reform Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech, a government spokesperson said: “We will shortly publish a White Paper which will set out more detail on our proposals for landmark reform in the private rented sector.”

Housing minister Eddie Hughes confirmed that the white paper is still being worked on. Hughes told the House of Commons on January 14: “Our reforms will deliver a fairer, more effective rental market and, later this year, we will publish the white paper that sets out the blueprint for the whole sector.

“It is important, given this once-in-a-generation change, that we make sure that we have consulted widely with people from across the sector to ensure that we get it right.”

The minister has since confirmed in an answer to a written parliamentary question that the government is currently taking a “undertaking robust and structured engagement with stakeholders” on the plans.

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